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Storing Test Data In The Cloud
Optical inspection machine from CRT/Photon Dynamics in use at Digicom Electronics generate huge amounts of data which can be stored to the cloud. In the works: creating an online database with the stats collected on this and our other machine so that customers could actually view their stats on their own products real time.
By Jeffrey Paulownia
Automatic-test-equipment (ATE) systems are renowned for their advanced measurement capabilities, whether for measuring anything from DC power to the fastest digital signals. But these same systems can generate massive amounts of test results, which make data storage a challenge. Many electronic manufacturing firms are discovering the relatively new option of storing their ATE data in "the cloud" rather than on local data storage media within their own infrastructure. While this use of cloud computing may not be for every electronic manufacturer, it does offer many benefits for those willing to take the chance, with a growing number of firms offering services related to data storage on the cloud.
In networking terms, a cloud refers to a group of shared computers connected by a network, such as the Internet, with their resources pooled and distributed to better to perform different applications. The cloud has become more effective in recent years because of the rise of web browsers that allow companies or even individuals to run any application over a cloud network, maintaining data locally or on a data storage device or devices connected to the cloud network. Such a cloud-based network approach can lead to cost savings, improved quality of data storage and execution of applications, and more widespread access to a greater number of users. Essentially, three types of cloud computer systems are currently in use: infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and software as a service (SaaS) clouds.
Cloud data centers provide an environment for running different applications and for storing data, and are maintained by cloud storage providers (CSPs). Cloud data centers contain racks of central processing units (CPUs) that can form virtual servers on demand, racks of storage media that can form elastic storage on demand, and network interconnections for network communications on demand. Cloud carriers provide access to the cloud data centers. High data quality for critical applications such as ATE data storage depends on both the cloud carrier and the CSP. The carrier maintains network performance parameters, including key performance indicators (KPIs) such as latency and available bandwidth, while the CSP manages the use of data storage and available processing power for applications.
Data centers like this one are the backbone of the cloud.
One of the major benefits of working within a cloud data environment for a large-data application such as ATE is that cloud consumers pay only for the resources that they use, basically leasing only the storage that they need rather than a rack of services and storage media. In contrast, data centers, such as computer networks maintained at an ATE site, may typically use as little as 10 percent of total capacity, leaving users with a great deal of unused capacity.
In any network, large available bandwidth is critical for applications such as ATE where large data throughput is required. For Internet-level services, cloud data centers need high bandwidth, low-latency connections to Internet exchanges. Latency is an important performance parameter and is based on the physical proximity of a user to a data center, due to signal propagation speeds. Cloud carriers typically tackle latency issues by placing data centers close to users and offering cloud services from these data centers to minimize latency. Cloud consumers worried about privacy can maintain isolation through the use of virtual private networks (VPNs), provided by the cloud carriers.
How reliable is ATE data storage in the cloud compared to locally maintained large-storage options such as redundant array of independent disks (RAID) devices? For several years, cloud storage infrastructure suppliers such as Nasuni Corp. (www.nasuni.com) have been testing the performance and stability of different CSPs, to compare the different CSPs. While the costs tend to be quite comparable (and low), the performance levels can vary. The firm's testing has revealed that data transmission speeds can differ significantly, depending upon the time of day and the number of computers used to transfer the data. Tests were runs across the different CSPs, with the cloud's write capability apparently the most significant limiting factor in terms of transmission speeds. The leading CSPs are fairly well-known names, including Amazon S3, IBM, Microsoft Azure Blob Storage, Hewlett-Packard (HP), and Google.
How different devices communicate with the cloud as a scalable storage alternative.
In addition, companies such as Parallels Software International (www.parallels.com) offer cloud data storage services for users with large amounts of ATE data, even where flexible and high-speed redundant data storage is needed. It has run extensive tests on its wide range of cloud-based data-storage services and found little or no overhead, additional costs, or loss of processing speed compared to local RAID-based storage methods. In addition, the cloud can be used to quickly replicate chunks of data in parallel, across all servers in a cluster, for a high level of data security.
In some cases, established test-equipment suppliers such as National Instruments (www.ni.com) are also offering cloud-based services for test data storage, the firm's Technical Data Cloud (TDC). It allows users to aggregate, store, and share technical data using cloud computing. These users are involved in measurements across a wide range of industries, including for environmental monitoring, structural health monitoring, machine condition monitoring, and power monitoring. The TDC capability is housed in large, professionally administered third-party cloud data centers that are accessible from anywhere in the world. The access also allows the use of some of the firm's well-known test tools, such as LabVIEW software, from any cloud access points around the world.
For those involved with three-dimensional (3D) measurements, FARO Technologies (www.faro.com) recently expanded its capabilities by releasing SCENE WebShare Cloud, which allows users to store 3D documentation by means of the cloud. The service, which is directly hosted by FARO, is guaranteed to provide high quality and security, and even supports mobile devices with an optimally adapted user interface. According to Oliver Burkler, FARO's Senior Technical Product Manager for Laser Scanning Software, "Neither technical training nor specialized skills in 3D laser scanning are necessary to work with the intuitive user interface. The tool enables our customers to exchange data with project and business partners without any difficulty." As with other cloud-based services, this 3D data storage service provides as much capacity as needed at any time.
For ATE applications, the cloud offers a number of benefits, including almost unlimited storage space for valuable test data. The data is secure and can be safely backed up across multiple servers and storage devices, with data available to any number of required users. Having such flexible storage and ATE usability can even increase the return on investment (ROI) of the test-equipment hardware for companies with multiple sites, making the equipment available to more users throughout a company.
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